THE BLOG
10/23/2014 10:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Overeating at Work? Try This

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The Chipotle burrito with extra guacamole, eaten at my desk, as I put the finishing touches on a spreadsheet. The kale salad, stuffed hastily in my mouth before rushing off to a meeting. How often have you eaten more than you intended to at work? More than you think you should?

I've been there. I've worked in management consulting and at a tech start-up, and I know how easy it is to over eat at work. We're busy, we're stressed, and we just want something fun in our day. And for many of us, the only fun opportunity is lunch.

Many experts would advise that the solution to this is just to make sure you eat a healthy lunch. Only chicken and mixed greens and a bit of balsamic vinegar, and we can make sure that our pencil skirts won't get tighter, that there won't be a bulge of fat appearing over our grey slacks.

And if that works for you, more power to you.

But frankly, it doesn't work for me. And it doesn't seem to work for most of the women I work with. Why?

1. Eating only chicken and mixed greens isn't tasty.
Do you really want to spend your days eating nothing but low-fat health foods?

2. If we aren't satisfied by what we're eating, we'll go searching for more food later.
This is the much more insidious problem. You can eat a salad with lean protein, but if you go and eat three cookies a few hours later, you might as well have avoided the sneaking and eaten something that you enjoyed from the beginning. Instead, I have a radical solution that does work.

Something that doesn't have anything to do with food.

You need to make sure you plan at least one pocket of pleasure into your day.

For many of us lunch is our only break in a long day of busyness. Lunch is our opportunity to relax, to enjoy something tasty and stop having to deal with our to-do list for at least a few minutes.

As a result, lunch morphs into something that has nothing to do with a sandwich at all.

Lunch becomes our salvation.
Our moment of relaxation in our busy day.
Our taste of pleasure.

And look, I'm all for lunch being delicious.

But if lunch is your only pleasure in a busy day, then you are using a sandwich (or a wrap, or chicken pot pie) to substitute for what your soul really needs -- which is pleasure, or relaxation, or joy.

I know that sounds mushy, but isn't it true?

So that's why you really need to plan your day so that lunch isn't your only non-work pleasure between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Make sure that you plan at least one other 15-minute "pocket of pleasure." (In other words, a "break.")

When you do this, you make sure that your falafel wrap is not the only joy and fun you'll have all day. You let your falafel wrap just be a falafel wrap. Not a complete respite from the grind of your day. And when you're not counting on your lunch to be your savior, it's a lot easier to stop when you're full.

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But wait. Let's just pause for a minute here.

Are you thinking to yourself, "Well, that's nice for you, Katie. But I have a really busy job/school schedule/life, and I couldn't possibly plan breaks for anything else!"

To that -- oh, I wish I could give you a hug.

Because I totally get how you feel. I've worked at a top-tier management consulting firm, and my colleagues often didn't even leave their desks for lunch, much less for a (gasp!) break.

It was really, really scary to me to think about leaving my desk.

I mean, wouldn't everyone notice and think that I was less committed or less competent?

Wouldn't someone suddenly need me?

But eventually, I felt so dried up from forcing myself to work all day, and I felt so unhappy from over-eating that I had to ask myself do I want to feel terrible, or do I want to make sure that my day has some pleasure and relaxation in it, some moments that are just for me?

And so I made it work.

Sometimes that meant that I told my manager, "I need a quick break to clear my head so I can focus."

Sometimes that meant that I just left my desk for 15 minutes and didn't tell anyone where I was going. (I brought my Blackberry, so I would be find-able.)

And you know what, 99 percent of the time no one even noticed.

And look, you can continue to not take breaks and just power through your whole day. But I found, for myself, that if I was a little gentler with myself, if I prioritized with my breaks, I more than made up for being gone with increased productivity.

15 minutes is all you need. At least once a day.

(Though twice is preferable. Twice gets you bonus points.)

But what do you do with 15 minutes?

I'm so glad you asked. Everyone will have things that really speak to them, but here are a few of the things that really work for me:

  • Walk around the block or around the parking lot of your office building
  • Call a friend or (let's be real) my mom
  • Browse a store nearby (I have often had jobs in Manhattan, so there is usually a pretty store nearby. Even just getting some fresh air while walking to the store, touching some pretty fabrics and smelling a scented candle or two -- if you happen to, you know, be near an Anthropologie -- works wonder)
  • Look at a catalog or a magazine (trashy magazines are the best)
  • Read a book
  • Poke my nose in a florist
  • Go on Pinterest/Tumblr/whatever random break that I shouldn't technically do during my workday

What do you like to do to reset your brain?

Katie is a coach that works with women who have tried dieting but feel frustrated, out of control, lost, or scared about their eating and their weight, and want to find a way to feel intuitive and luscious in their eating and in their lives.